Richard Ratcliffe: An Unlikely Hero

Updated: Apr 8

Whilst all the attention has been on Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her release from politically motivated detention in Iran, let's take a moment to applaud her husband, Richard, who has truly ‘set the bar high for all husbands’.


Pair of gold wedding rings

Six years ago, Richard Ratcliffe kissed his wife and daughter goodbye. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Ratcliffe’s wife of seven years, was taking their baby daughter, Gabriella, to see her parents in Iran. The north London accountant, then 37, went back to work, looking forward to seeing them in a couple of weeks.


However, when Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe reached Imam Khomeini Airport for their flight home, she was arrested by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Her detention shocked Britain and plunged Mr Ratcliffe, a City auditor with no prior involvement in public life, into a geopolitical quarrel decades in the making.


“This is an accountant from north London whose life has been completely transformed,” Tulip Siddiq, the couple’s local Labour MP, told the Financial Times. “He never thought he would lead a life of juggling media demands from dawn into the night, or dealing with government officials. An accountant is about as far removed as you can be from this world.”


Thus began his painfully public ordeal. Unable to sleep or work, he set up a petition for her release that garnered half a million signatures. Always keen on keeping his wife's plight in the public spotlight and to maintain pressure on the UK authorities, he went on hunger strike outside the Iranian embassy. In 2021, he did the same outside the Foreign Office, this time for 21 days. Looking haggard and tired, Mr Ratcliffe told BBC News: “I’m not backing down.”


It was not until October 2019 that Mr Ratcliffe was reunited with Gabriella, who had been staying with her Iranian grandparents. Mr Ratcliffe admitted that he might be a “rusty” parent, displaying a candour also evidenced in his account of his wife’s frustration about things he might have said or done better in his quest to free her.


Along with his honesty, it is his bravery that has won Mr Ratcliffe admirers across all spectrums.


“His quiet courage,” Jeremy Hunt ( former foreign secretary) told the Financial Times last November, “is a deafening rebuke to those who think it is acceptable to use innocent people as pawns in diplomatic power games.”


Tulip Siddiq told the House of Commons this week: “I want to pay tribute to my constituent Richard Ratcliffe for his relentless campaigning, but I also think he’s really set the bar high for all husbands.”


Mr Ratcliffe’s love for his wife has been a visible source of motivation. “It’s not a Mills & Boon story,” he told the New Statesman during one of his hunger strikes. “But I do think it’s important that she knows, always, that I’m there for her.”


With his wife safely returned to the UK, Mr Ratcliffe can resume a family life that had been on pause for six years. “I suppose we can stop being a moment in history,” he told broadcasters, “and start being a normal family again.”

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